• I Heart Feminism

Is feminism trendy? Gender equality and the celebrity halo effect

From Karl Lagerfeld to Emma Watson, celebrities seem to be lining up to endorse feminism, but is the so-called celebrity halo effect good for the cause? Chantelle Krish, manager of advocacy and public relations at the YWCA, gives her two-cents.

Last week’s edition of CBC’s The Current  featured an interesting conversation about feminism, fashion, and the fight for equality. Host Anna Maria Tremonti discussed the controversial Chanel Runway show at Paris Fashion week, where internationally acclaimed designer Carl Lagerfeld curated a show that looked like a protest for the women’s movement.  The industry’s most recognizable models took to the runway, which resembled a Paris Boulevard, with signs saying “Boys Should Get Pregnant Too” and “Make Fashion Not War”. Leading the "protest" was Gisele Bündchen, the highest paid model in the world.  This event joins a string of celebrities endorsing feminism over the past few months.  

In August, Beyoncé’s performance finale at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards had her standing tall and proud, the world FEMINIST lighting up the stage behind her. She’s openly spoken about pay equity as a driver of true equality and doesn't shy away from identifying as a feminist herself (clearly!)

Just last week the world heard Emma Watson’s inspiring address to the UN promoting HeforShe, a campaign advocating for male inclusion in the fight for gender equality. Watson did a great job of articulating the complexities behind identifying as a modern feminist and why it is important to recognize those that already do. This speech went viral, and encouraged support for a worthy cause. However, it also drew in criticism. There have been countless speeches made to the UN about gender equality, engaging men and boys and starting a global movement.  Why do people tune in when Emma Watson speaks? 

The celebrity halo effect

In part, this is because of the halo effect, meaning, our overall impression of a person (Beyoncé is beautiful and talented) influences our feelings about their specific character traits (she is also intelligent, smart, funny, empowering and likable). This is strange because few people have actually met Beyoncé, but still might develop these attitudes towards her.  Perhaps she is all these things, but how are we to know? Based on this logic, when a celebrity endorses a cause, people that value them are influenced to endorse the cause as well.  Understanding this effect is important but it doesn’t mean we have to give up on popular culture altogether. Perhaps it is just a reminder that forming our own opinions on social issues is important.

Is there something wrong with the halo effect?

On the show, Jeannie Becker, long-time Canadian Fashion commentator (remember Fashion File?) and Globe and Mail columnist, was a guest. She pointed out that this trend is raising awareness on the important issue of feminism, so what’s all the fuss about?

I agree. It has started a conversation about an important societal issue and media are reporting on it. The catalyst might be a celebrity endorsement of feminism, but the discussions can lead to education and engagement on gender equality in our communities.  

The road ahead 

The important thing to remember is that a catalyst is only the beginning. The next step is to get informed on what feminism means to you. It can mean urging elected officials to take action on violence against women in Canada.  It can mean advocating for equal pay for women. It can mean developing an affordable child care system that supports women in the workforce. It can mean sharing the workload at home so women don’t take on the majority of unpaid work, leaving little time for anything else. It can mean, speaking out against the sexualization of girls and women in media. 

Whatever it is, find out what it means to you so you can start your own conversations. Learn what the issues are and how to talk about them, and if you don’t know, start searching for answers!

Chantelle Krish is manager of advocacy and public relations at YWCA Metro Vancouver. Want to learn more about YWCA Advocacy on gender equality? Learn about our advocacy issues or get in touch at 604 895 5767 / ckrish@ywcavan.org

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